All the attention usually goes to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, but sometimes the most important moves come after that date, during the waiver-wire period. This period lasts until Aug. 31, as rosters need to be set by Sept. 1 in order for players to be eligible for postseason play.
The way it works is one team puts a player on waivers, and if another team places a claim on him, the player's team can either choose to dump him and his contract on the claiming team for nothing in return, try to negotiate a trade with the claiming team or pull the player back. A team can try to pass a player through waivers a second time, but if claimed, that player cannot be pulled back.
Teams also sometimes place claims on players they don't even want, for the sole purpose of blocking that player from going to their divisional competition. However, by doing this, they run the risk of getting stuck with this player for the remainder of his contract. It takes some maneuvering by the general managers to make waiver-wire deals work, but when they do, they can help their teams and maybe even provide that one final push to get to the playoffs.
So, let's examine which areas each of the contenders need help in and what potential players could be brought in to provide some relief.
The Red Sox are possibly the closest to having a perfect team in all of baseball. If it weren't for injuries, they literally wouldn't need to try to swing any kind of deal during the waiver period. That being said, the Red Sox have suffered significant blows to the rotation that was once considered the best in the AL, originally consisting of Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka (in that order by the way).
All of Boston's starters except Josh Beckett have found themselves on the disabled list at least once this season. Lackey and Lester have each returned, but Matsuzaka underwent Tommy John surgery that may have ended his Red Sox career, and Buchholz has a stress fracture in his back that will likely end his season as well.
With Lackey drawing inconsistency comparisons to those of Yankees starter A.J. Burnett, the Red Sox are left with two reliable starter in Lester and the resurgent Beckett. They tried their best to find a solution at the trade deadline, acquiring Erik Bedard (pictured) after a deal for Rich Harden fell through, but Bedard has his own injury history and is nowhere near as effective as he was earlier in his career.
If the Red Sox want to have a chance at winning their third World Series title in eight years, they will need to find an appropriate third starter during the waiver period.
So, how many of you thought this slide would be about the starting rotation?
Well, contrary to popular belief, the Yankees do NOT need any more pitching. They have six starting pitchers who are all more than capable of pitching in playoff games. CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett are all pitching decently (yes, even Burnett, go look at some of his losses and you'll see what I'm talking about.)
The only issue with the rotation is which of those six is the odd man out in a world of five-man rotations? But that's not what I'm here to discuss.
Everyone talks about Boston as having the best lineup in the AL, but what people don't realize is even though the Yankees lack a slew of .300-hitters atop their order, they do have a slew of big-time run-producers.
Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira each have hit 32 home runs, second-most in baseball. Granderson, Teixeira and Cano are all top-four RBI guys. Oh, and Alex Rodriguez is set to return to the cleanup spot in the Yankee lineup within the next week or two. Add on to that the fantastic contributions of Nick Swisher and Eric Chavez, coupled with the resurgence of Derek Jeter (hitting over .300 since returning from the DL) and Brett Gardner's new-found stealing ability, and you have one hell of a lineup.
So what is missing from this team, you might ask? An American League exclusive, a designated hitter.
Jorge Posada was supposed to be the everyday DH, but after a season-long struggle he has been removed from this role and replaced with the duo of Chavez and Andruw Jones, but the Yankees will need something a little more consistent if they want to win the AL East.
Top prospect Jesus Montero could be the key, but if the Yankees decide he is not ready yet, they will need to acquire a DH on the waiver wire.
Considering how Austin Jackson, Phil Coke and even Max Scherzer have performed, I think it is safe to say that the Tigers probably regret the Curtis Granderson trade. Granderson has become a superstar MVP-candidate with the Yankees, and the Tigers' biggest woes come from their weak outfield.
Brennan Boesch is a great young talent in left field, but Jackson in center and Magglio Ordonez in right are both having dreadful offensive seasons. Neither one is doing much, yet they both remain in their pivotal lineup spots, leadoff for Jackson and third for Ordonez.
The Tigers' pitching is only about average after staff ace Justin Verlander, so they really need an outfielder who can contribute to the scoring on a daily basis. If they can only find one outfielder, I'd say they should keep Jackson in favor of Ordonez, but Jackson should not remain in the leadoff position.
Adding an outfielder to either serve as the leadoff man or a 5- or 6-hitter (with Victor Martinez moving to the 3-hole) would be a huge boost for the Tigers.
Potential Additions: Coco Crisp (A's), Josh Willingham (A's), Alfonso Soriano (Cubs)
The Cleveland Indians have been one of baseball's most surprising teams in 2011. Their young talent brought in by the trades of CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez has matured much quicker than anyone expected, allowing for a potential division run at this point in the season.
At the deadline, the Indians acquired the most coveted starting pitcher available, Colorado Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez, solidifying their rotation for the rest of the season. With all of the young talent, not many positions are lacking in Cleveland, but one is, and that is first base, currently occupied by Matt LaPorta.
Plenty of non-contending teams have first basemen, so if anyone is going to make a waiver deal, I'd place my money on the Cleveland Indians.
Potential Additions: Casey Kotchman (Rays), Carlos Pena (Cubs), Michael Cuddyer (Twins)
The Rangers are a very deep ball club. They really aren't lacking too much, whether it be offense, defense, or pitching. Going into the trade deadline, the Texas bullpen was an obvious weakness, but the trades for Koji Uehara and Mike Adams to set up Neftali Feliz have strengthened the bullpen to satisfaction.
With a lineup and a rotation as stacked as those of the Rangers, it's difficult to find any room for improvement, so if I had to really nitpick here, then the only thing I see the Rangers lacking is speed. Apart from Elvis Andrus, and maybe Ian Kinsler and Craig Gentry, the Rangers lack anyone of any real speed.
They don't have many particularly sluggish players, but not many fast ones either, so perhaps something they could add is a pinch-runner type player who could also provide some kind of upgrade on defense over one of the current players.
Normally, this would be Julio Borbon's job, but he is out for the season, so the Rangers may want to find a temporary replacement during the waiver period.
The Angels, despite being a relatively young team, are also quite a deep team. They have viable offensive and defensive players at almost every position, a starting rotation complete with two aces and a budding young star or two, and a decent bullpen with the type of closer not seen in Anaheim since K-Rod.
Even after all-star first baseman Kendrys Morales went down with injury yet again, rookie Mark Trumbo has filled in admirably enough to gather Rookie-of-the-Year support.
However, one are that the Angels lack in (besides left field with Vernon Wells's contract), is behind the plate. Now don't get me wrong, Jeff Mathis and Bobby Wilson are quite capable of calling good games and fielding their positions, but they provide almost nothing with their bats.
Both are hitting below .200 with very few home runs and RBI between them, making most Angels fans dearly miss Mike Napoli, now a member of the rival Texas Rangers.
If the Angels could add a potent bat to their lineup in the form of a catcher, it would greatly benefit their offense. As it is now, having Mathis/Wilson in the lineup is just as bad as having a pitcher bat, probably worse when you consider what a great hitter Dan Haren was with the D-Backs.
Okay, so we all know how fantastic the Phillies' rotation is. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt, hell even the rookie Vance Worley is a stud. What people fail to realize, however, is that even five excellent starters cannot pitch complete games every day. A bullpen is still vital to the success of a pitching staff, and the almost-perfect Phillies' one weakness lies just there, in their bullpen.
Brad Lidge has missed most of the year due to injury, and multiple other relievers are hurt or have been this year. Jose Contreras, one of the many pitchers used as closer this season, is on the DL right now.
If not for youngster Antonio Bastardo, this entire bullpen would be in shambles. The Phillies need another viable arm for relief, preferably a closer to lock down games for when their five aces go eight.
Potential Additions: RHP Heath Bell (Padres), RHP Brandon League (Mariners), RHP Kyle Farnsworth (Rays)
About a month ago, I might've been inclined to argue that the Braves' rotation was just as good, if not better than the Phillies'. All-Star Jair Jurrjens was having a Cy Young-year, and Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson were pitching like aces, with Brandon Beachy an excellent fourth starter and Derek Lowe as a great number five.
However, things have changed drastically since then, with Jurrjens and Hanson both going down with injuries, leaving Hudson and Beachy as the only reliable pitchers in a shaky rotation. The Braves need someone to step in in these two pitchers' absences, especially if either of them fails to return for the playoffs.
Taking on a massive contract like that of Wandy Rodriguez would be a huge mistake, however, as the Braves don't figure to lose any of these pitchers for next season, so a three-month rental would be the best option.
Potential Additions: LHP Jeff Francis (Royals), RHP Livan Hernandez (Nationals), RHP Rich Harden (A's)
The Brewers are a ballclub with almost no holes whatsoever. They thought that maybe their bullpen could use a little help at the trade deadline, so they acquired the single-season saves record holder, Francisco Rodriguez, also known as "K-Rod."
This was a great move, but there is still one more addition their bullpen needs before it can be claimed as complete.
You see, the Crew's 'pen lacks a lefty. Not even one southpaw resides out in the Miller Park bullpen, and that is a big problem. Left-handed relievers are key members of the bullpen due to their keen ability to get left-handed batters out. Without them, you have no defense against those hitters.
Milwaukee has two left-handed pitchers, Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson, but they're both in the starting rotation. That's not good enough, and the Brewers need to address this situation before it's too late and their postseason rosters are set. Not having a lefty to call on out of the bullpen in the playoffs is a recipe for disaster.
The St. Louis Cardinals are in a fight for their lives in the NL Central and NL Wild Card races. Their problem so far has not been their offense, one of the best in the league thanks to the surprising resurgence of Lance Berkman. Their pitching, both starting and relief, has been shaky all season long.
The ace of their staff, Chris Carpenter, is 8-8 with a 3.68 ERA, but that is not all his fault. He has lost some surefire wins thanks to a subpar bullpen. The Cardinals have enhanced their rotation with the addition of journeyman starter Edwin Jackson, but their bullpen has not responded well to the additions of Mark Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel.
Ever since Ryan Franklin broke down and lost his job as closer (and then his job, period), the Cards' bullpen has been in a state of disarray. They need a closer, a lock-down force at the ends of games. Without one, they don't stand a chance against any of the other contenders.
Potential Additions: RHP Heath Bell (Padres), RHP Brandon League (Mariners), Kyle Farnsworth (Rays)
Although the Pirates made their bid, it is the 2011 Arizona Diamondbacks who are enjoying a season reminiscent of the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays. After finishing dead last in the NL West with the third-worst record in baseball a year ago, the D-Backs are in first place, a game ahead of the reigning world champion Giants.
This Cinderella story looks like the real deal, and Arizona's front office agreed, neglecting to make any deals at the trade deadline. Everyone is contributing at high level, both youngsters and veterans. The rotation, for example, is led by two young pitchers, Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson, as well as 30-year-old Joe Saunders, all three of which were acquired in trades within the last year and a half.
I wouldn't be surprised to see no additions in August as well, but if there is going to be one, it has to be for a power-hitting pinch hitter off the bench. Going into the season, rookie first baseman Paul Goldschmidt (pictured) was probably thought to be that kind of guy for later in the season, but Juan Miranda did not work out at first base, forcing his callup about a week ago.
If the D-Backs can find a skilled pinch-hitter, or even a current American League DH, it would be the last piece of the puzzle for this dream team.
Potential Additions: Jason Giambi (Rockies), Vladimir Guerrero (Orioles), Hideki Matsui (A's)
Last season, the San Francisco Giants shocked the world by seemingly coming out of nowhere and winning the World Series, mainly due to the poise and leadership from one of the most unlikely sources, rookie catcher Buster Posey.
Posey was called up to the majors on May 29 of last season, and immediately cemented his place as team leader. He showed excellent abilities at the plate and behind it, with his most important contribution being his veteran-like control of the pitching staff.
The Giants entered 2011 as strong candidates to repeat as World Series champions, with their ability to win the NL West never being questioned. However, the surprising Arizona Diamondbacks have taken the division race into August, still holding a two-game lead.
The Giants' struggles are due in large part to the lack of their driving force from last season, Buster Posey. They have replaced him with backup catcher Eli Whiteside, but if they want to overtake this year's All-Star Game hosts, they'll need to find someone much better.
Potential Additions: Kelly Shoppach (Rays), Ronny Paulino (Mets), Miguel Olivo (Mariners)